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Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx , NY

Principal Investigator: Michelle Dunn, Ph.D.

Understanding Cortical Auditory Processing Abnormalities in Children with Autism (funded through NAAR)

Sensitivities to sound, preference for music over speech, and slowed responding to verbal information are regularly observed in children with autism. Those with full scale IQs of at least 60 are not clinically distinct from children with typical development on peripheral audiometric measures and they demonstrate normal early auditory cortical responses associated with generators on the superior temporal plane. Dysfunction in children with autism is evident in abnormal slowing of early ERPs localizable to auditory association cortex of the lateral surface of the superior temporal gyrus. A prerequisite to establishing appropriate interventions for children with autism is precise definition of dysfunction, achieved through knowledge of information and processing demands that modulate neural responses. Auditory processing offers an important window into information processing in children with autism. The goals of this study are to elucidate through use of behavioral and neurophysiologic methods neural and cognitive/linguistic mechanisms associated with auditory processing in children with autism and to understand circumstances under which neural abnormalities are ameliorated or exacerbated.

Neurology Department - Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Combined Jewish Philanthropies / Hebrew College, Newton, MA
2003- End of fund

Support of the Jewish Special Education Program

This grant establishes a perpetually endowed fund for college scholarships and for increased inclusion of students with special needs into educational programs at Hebrew College.  It includes funding to develop new courses and faculty in the Jewish Special Education Program, to support student stipends, and to support a series of specialized seminars on the role of special education in the Jewish community.  It also provides outreach support to inform community families about educational opportunities for special needs students at the College. 

Hebrew College

Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Boston, MA

Establishment and Support of the Autism Special Education Legal Support Center

The goal of this project is to provide training, technical assistance, and advocacy services necessary to ensure that children with autism receive equal educational opportunities. Goals include: Providing parents with information about state-of-the-art services and programs available to meet individual needs of students with disabilities; Insuring that children with autism receive special education services necessary to reach their potential in areas impacted by their disability; Increasing public awareness and understanding of the potential and competency of individuals with autism, targeting policy makers, media, educators, service providers, as well as the general public. The Autism Special Education Legal Support Center will accomplish these goals by: providing community-based workshops for parents, educators, and medical professionals regarding legal rights and range of service options available for children with autism; providing a hotline to give legal and technical assistance to families of children with autism; training attorneys to increase representation of low-income students with autism to ensure that children receive legally mandated special education services; and providing information to the media, the legislature, and other policy makers regarding changes necessary to ensure children with autism receive services that reflect their potential.

Massachusetts Advocates for Children

Museum of Fine Arts , Boston, MA
2003, 2004

Pilot Program for Adults with Cognitive Disabilities and Autism

The NLM Family Foundation supports workshops at the Museum of Fine Arts designed for people with cognitive, learning, and/or developmental disabilities, those with autism spectrum disorders, and their friends and families. One workshop is intended for young people to age 12, and the other is for adolescents and adults. The participants explore the art in the Museum of Fine Arts ' collections and exhibitions through sound, theater exercises, music, movement, and visual art.

Museum of Fine Arts

Neurofeedback Group, Inc., Newton , MA

Principal Investigator: Barbara Scolnick, M.D.

EEG Biofeedback as an Operant Training Technique to Ameliorate Some Symptoms in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

The goal of this project is to test whether biofeedback of electro -encephalographic (EEG) measurements can improve the ability of children with autism, ages 8 to 16 years, to control their behavior. The experiment involves a subject group of 20 individuals who are exposed to their continuous EEG profiles while engaged in playing computer games. Each subject and aged matched controls will participate in 40 one-hour sessions over a 20 week period. The hope is to investigate whether EEG biofeedback can be a useful operant training technique to ameliorate some symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorders.

New England Medical Center, Atlanta , GA
2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

Callaway Gardens Annual Autism Genetics Workshop

The purpose of the Callaway Gardens Annual Autism Genetics Workshop is to share unpublished data, ideas, and suggestions within the Autism Genetics Cooperative group, form limited collaborations for specific purposes, and generally spend 3½ days discussing how to find genes that predispose people to autism. This event was co-sponsored with National Alliance for Autism Research.

New England Medical Center

Oregon Health & Science University , Portland , OR

Principal Investigator: John Welsh, Ph.D.

Inferior Olive & Autism: Electrical Synapses, Neuronal Synchrony, & Cognition (funded through NAAR)

It is thought that social and communication cues pass by too fast for children with autism to process, making them appear socially or emotionally detached. One of the most common disturbances of brain anatomy in autism is the altered shape of the inferior olive, a structure in the lowest portion of the brainstem that communicates directly with the cerebellum. This study will explore the possibility that there is a direct link between disruption of the inferior olive and inability of children with autism to process rapid-fire sequences of stimulus events. The hypothesis is that the inferior olive acts as a "cognitive clock" that generates a continuous, metronomic rhythm that allows cognitive separation of sensory events that are closely spaced in time. Experiments will be conducted in rats trained to blink their eyelid to an auditory stimulus in the absence of fast electrical transmission within their inferior olive. It is expected that electrically disconnected neurons in the inferior olive, as may occur in autism, will prevent rapid stimulus processing. Demonstration of this could point to a specific family of neuronal proteins (connexins) in the behavioral manifestation of autism.

Neurological Services Institute - Oregon Health & Science University

Princeton University , Princeton , NJ

Principal Investigator: Alex Plakantonakis

Fellowship Support for Research into New Approaches for Discovering Cognitive-Enhancing Medications for Autism

The human brain is made up of many cells, each carrying out its function while maintaining its role in the larger context of groups of cells, thereby working side by side to perform specialized tasks that we attribute to behavior.  The formation and consolidation of memories is a cognitive task that has received much attention in the last decade, as neuroscientists are starting to delineate the molecular events that make memories possible.  Central to these events is a molecule called Calcium-Calmodulin dependent Kinase II (CaMKII).  CaMKII is a molecule capable of affecting practically every facet of cellular metabolism and homeostasis upon activation, which depends on transiently elevated concentrations of calcium in the cell.  Given the abundance of CaMKII in the brain it has been proposed that CaMKII plays a key role in storage of information.  Plakantonakis is interested in characterizing the interaction of CaMKII with other proteins that may be important in brain function.  Understanding the three-dimensional structure of the CaMKII molecule may be useful for understanding the way in which its function is carried out and for designing other molecules that can have a desirable physiological effect upon binding.  For instance, many drugs sold today have been designed to interact with a therapeutic target (a protein of special medical significance) whose three-dimensional structure is known.  It is possible that his efforts will provide the details required for the rational design of drugs that will have an effect on our ability to better retain and process information.

Department of Chemistry - Princeton University

Project Stretch, Natick, MA

Support for the Production of a Video for Dentists on Providing Dental Care for Children with Autism

Dr. Tesini has a Boston-area dental practice that provides care to special needs populations including individuals with autism.  Because of their increase sensitivities to various sensory stimuli such as loud noises, individuals with autism often have difficulty tolerating normal dental procedures. Using repetitive tasking and familiarization techniques that he has pioneered, he has had significant success providing dental care without sedation to this population. Dr. Tesini has created a dental program based on these techniques which if disseminated amongst dental professionals has the potential to vastly improve dental experiences for individuals with autism. The NLM Family Foundation is funding the production of a video, produced by Dr. Tesini, intended to train dental professionals on these techniques.

Project Stretch

Syracuse University, Facilitated Communication Institute, Syracuse , NY

Principal Investigator: Douglas Biklen, Ph.D.

The NLM Family Foundation has supported the Facilitated Communication Institute for several years.  Through the Core Funding Grant, the Strategic Planning Grant and the Lurie Scholarship Fund, the NLM Family Foundation supports the FC Institute's activities in facilitated communication training, documentation and demonstration, and reinitiates a strategic planning process to better focus the Institute for the next 5-10 years of work in the field of autism and inclusion. The Foundation also provided a grant to Dr. Biklen to support his work in collecting autobiographical accounts from people with autism who had been previously considered low functioning but now communicate fluently and some even independently with use of FC.  Dr. Biklen has written a book of autobiographical accounts of seven individuals with autism published in 2005, entitled Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone .

Doug Biklen

University of Louisville , KY

Principal Investigator: Manuel Casanova, M.D.

Macroscopic Correlates of MiniColumnar Abnormalities in Autism (funded through NAAR)

In the cortex, cells are arranged in parallel, layered bundles, termed collectively as the cell minicolumn. It is a self-contained system linking the central nervous system to incoming, outgoing, and interneuronal signals. Preliminary study indicates that the neocortical organization of brains of individuals with autism differs from that of controls. Previous study of 3 neocortical sites in 9 brains of individuals with autism and 9 controls has shown significant differences in spacing that separates minicolumns, and differences in their internal structure: less space in outside edges of minicolumn and increased mean cell spacing within minicolumn. This project will attempt to find morphological correlates to these columnar findings in postmortem MRIs of 26 patients with autism available through University of California at Davis and the Autism Tissue Program.

Manuel Casanova

University of Oxford , Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics, Oxford , UK

Principal Investigators: Anthony Monaco, Ph.D., Anthony Bailey, Ph.D.

Identifying and Understanding the Actions of Autism Susceptibility Genes

This research involves the search of the top two regions of peak linkage (currently on chromosomes 2q and 7q) for Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) that may be in linkage disequilibrium with autism susceptibility alleles. Dr. Monaco's most current analysis of linkage on chromosome 7q with regards to parent of origin effects indicates that there may be two genes in this region of chromosome 7q, one paternally linked and the other maternally linked in separate areas. To pursue this finding, the NLM Family Foundation is supporting the search for the paternally and maternally linked regions on chromosome 7q with high density SNPs to test for association. Knowledge of parent of origin effects will allow Dr. Monaco to test genes in the two regions for imprinting (expression from only one chromosome depending on its parent of origin) using both molecular and bioinformatics approaches, thus speeding up his localization and identification of autism susceptibility genes.

Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics

Anthony Monaco

University of Toronto , Toronto , Ontario

Principal Investigator: Timothy Roberts, Ph.D.

MEG Correlates of Linguistic Processing at and Below the Word Level in Autism (funded through NAAR)

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) results from past studies have shown delays in automatic neural responses to vowel-sound contrasts in subjects with autism relative to controls. This study focuses on the development of a novel MEG experiment (which allows for non-invasive measurement of neural activity in auditory cortical sites) to extend investigation of auditory linguistic processing of speech sounds from isolated sounds to speech sound combinations. The combination of speech sounds is governed by phonotactic rules, language particular constraints on how sequences of segments pattern. This project will investigate sensitivity to violations of phonotactic rules of children with autism compared to controls. Literature shows that phonotactic violations cause processing delays for subjects' task completion in an auditory discrimination experiment. It is important to identify neural correlates of such delays in controls so that we may look for the presence of the same effect in children with autism in an MEG experiment. It is hypothesized that neural activity related to phonotactic violation detection will be significantly delayed in subjects with autism. The researchers will adapt existing MEG word recognition experiments to passive paradigms suitable for study with an autistic population to test whether individuals with autism store and access words similarly to healthy age-matched controls.

Timothy Roberts



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